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Hudson River Almanac October 15 - October 22, 2008


At the headwaters of the Hudson River in the High Peaks of the Adirondacks the seasons have changed. The fall colors are gone and snow is in the forecast almost daily. We passed peak color in the Mid-Hudson reach this week, and the lower river is at peak or very close.


10/16 - Sandy Hook, NJ: We have had a number of extra high full moon tides the past week. Yesterday's deposited a young (five-inch) lobster on the beach, a first for me in more than 40 years of beach walking. It was at the high-tide line, cool and damp, but not in the best of health. We got it into a small aquarium and it began to do better. There are more lobsters in local waters than people realize. Once, on a sampling trip years ago we trawled up almost 300 youngsters (1-3 inches-long) in Gravesend Bay, Brooklyn, and adult lobsters are regularly caught in traps near the Verrazano Narrows Bridge.
- Dery Bennett


10/15 - Delmar, HRM 143: I watched as a pair of Canada geese headed north over the Five Rivers Environmental Education Center. A few minutes later they came back flying south. In their hinking and honking I could just hear an old married couple, "I told you that was the wrong direction."
- Dee Strnisa

10/15 - Little Stony Point, HRM 55: Measuring the brilliance of fall colors is not easy; it is one of those "eye-of-the-beholder" phenomena. Bright sunny days and the absence of high winds and drenching rains certainly play a role. Yet, it would not be a stretch to say that this past week has been the most exquisite autumn array of reds, oranges and yellows that I can ever remember in the Hudson Highlands.
- Tom Lake

10/15 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: The morning glories at the backdoor had decided they'd better get blossoming before frost. Each morning there is a sheeting of beautiful heavenly blue pouring down the wall - a waterfall. Caught in among the flowers, a scattering of golden leaves fallen from the sassafras tree. Lovely.
- Robin Fox

10/15 - Stony Point, HRM 40: We were quite delighted to see 48 migrating turkey vultures at Stony Point this morning. They must have crossed the river in the vicinity of the Stony Point Battlefield and were streaming through at an unusually high altitude in a southwesterly direction toward the Harriman section of the Palisades Interstate Park. The wind was light and from the northeast, their flight effortless.
- John Deans, Doris Metraux

10/16 - Beacon, HRM 61: A cold front was passing through and the evening sky was a leaden gray. The warm afternoon southern breeze had moved to the northwest capping the river and chilling considerably. A dozen or more white-throated sparrows forged in the bush along the shore and several double-crested cormorants drifted just off Long Dock with only their necks and heads above the chop.
- Tom Lake

[Cormorants look and act like ducks but are really a different type of sea bird. At a distance, they are sometimes mistaken for loons. Being strong swimmers, they may be more adept in the water than in the air, but if they remain too long, they tend to lose buoyancy. It is common to see a cormorant swimming with just their neck and head above the waves. It may be that, unlike the waterproof feathers of ducks and geese, theirs are water permeable. As a result, they are frequently seen perched along the river in their "Dracula pose," black wings outstretched, drying off. Tom Lake.]

10/17 - Albany, HRM 145: I arrived in Albany early for a meeting and decided to take the walkway over route 787 to Corning Preserve and the Hudson. As I watched the river, so much larger than I'm used to seeing it near its headwaters, I had visions of sturgeons lurking just below the murky surface. Despite the constant drone of highway traffic all around, there were enough trees lining both sides of the river that anyone with a good imagination could almost picture what it might have been like 400-500 years ago.
- Ellen Rathbone

10/17 - Kowawese, HRM 59: The higher than usual monthly moon tides pushed the tiderows of wild celery far up on the beach. Lower on the beach (higher specific gravity), were tens of thousands of tiny zebra mussels shells (valves) strewn in the tideline, victims of the high energy zone in the near shore shallows from ships' wakes and rogue waves. This was a testament to the virtual absence of salinity on this beach all summer. I seined during this week in 2002 and noted in my journal that nearly every surface from discarded cans to old tires to rocks and deadfalls were covered with brackish water bay barnacles - seining in swim shorts and sandals risked serious abrasions. Zebra mussels, largely intolerant of brackish water, were nowhere to be found.
- Tom Lake

10/17 - Shrewsbury River, NJ: From the riverbank behind the Dunkin' Donuts, blocked by a 6-foot cyclone fence, the Shrewsbury was a sight of piscatorial mayhem. Bluefish, 6-10 lb., had corralled a school of bunker and were chasing them across a 3-knot current and chopping them up. Bobbing along with the tide were half a dozen cormorants eating smaller stuff or bits of chopped menhaden. One lone fisherman was tossing a big red-and-white popper over the fence and hooking up every cast. I sat on the hood of my truck, unarmed except for a small coffee and a black raspberry donut. Moral: Never leave home without your fishing gear.
- Dery Bennett

10/18 - Kowawese, HRM 59: Our teachers' in-service workshop began very early on a frosty morning with most of the participants in parkas. The river (60 degrees F) was more than twenty degrees warmer that the air. As I set up our gear on the beach - seine, buckets, pots and traps - an adult bald eagle glided down along the edge of the water, not more than a hundred feet overhead. It was likely one of the local breeding pair. The bird did not linger and continued on inland. Less than a minute later an osprey followed the same path, pausing to hover in the face of a strong north breeze giving us a nice look. The eagle will winter here but the osprey will head south, perhaps to the Tidewater area of Virginia, the Southeast Coast, Florida, or even South America. We seined in the lee of the hillside out of the wind and bathed by brilliant sunshine. Our catch was entirely unremarkable except for the several hundred young-of-the-year blueback herring that had emigrated from the Mohawk River and were heading to the sea.
- Tom Lake, Barbara Oliver, Marlayna Wiley

10/18 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: The night was cool and breezy; even in the near absence of light I could see colorful maple leaves fluttering off their limbs. I had gone for a walk after hearing a chorus of coyotes in the woods near the river. I was surprised they kept it up even as I walked into the treeline; it may have been the noise of the wind that masked my presence. Before very long I realized that the singing was coming from three quarters, hundreds of feet apart, straight ahead and to either side. I stopped and listened. They continued for a short while and then fell silent - a short but pleasing midnight performance.
- Tom Lake

10/19 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We have had several very hard frosts and things were still very white at 9:00 AM when I came in to work. All the spider webs were frosted along our walk route, looking like strands of very fine rock candy. Black bears have been out and about leaving copious piles of cherry-pit-filled scat along the trails. The leaves were off most of the trees. Mike Tracy tells me that there are lots of beechnuts in the woods this year, so it should be a good season for white-tail deer. I've seen several grouse in the last couple of weeks (usually as they thunder away into the trees when they become aware me coming along the trail), and the woodcocks are back! They've been "peenting" in the fields and flushing into the sky after dusk. Makes me wonder if these are juvenile males starting to practice for next spring.
- Ellen Rathbone

10/19 - Beacon to Ossining, HRM 61-33: We were on the second half of our sailboat trip, the return leg, and we were not alone on the river. Also taking advantage of the crisp air and brilliant fall colors were the small cruise ships American Spirit, American Glory, and American Star, as well as Seastreak Highlands and Zephyr, two fast catamarans. These small ships are new to the Hudson, either this year or last, and join the "oldtimers" Nantucket Clipper, Rip Van Winkle and a pair of American Canadian Caribbean Line vessels that have been passing by for years. M.V. Commander was about and Circle Line also had a boat stopped at Bear Mountain.
- Doug Maass, Diane Maass

10/20 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: I have seen very few daytime flocks of high-flyer geese so far this fall. I've probably heard more at night than seen in the day. As I put away my book and shut off the light to sleep, I could hear them faintly calling from a mile high. I went outside, looked up into the black sky, and listened. At least one large flock of Canada geese (pretty sure they were not snow geese) were passing over. I had to strain my ears to hear - as the breeze blew it would take their call away on the wind. As often as I hear it, I still find the nocturnal migration of geese to be one of the most fascinating phenomena of autumn.
- Tom Lake

10/21 - Newcomb, HRM 302: As I look out my window today, the world is gray and brown - the sky is gray, the tree trunks are gray. The leaves remaining on the trees are tan - American beech; they will hold onto their leaves through the winter. The wind is blowing, making the leaves shiver. And who can blame them? It's in the lower 40s out and the temperature is dropping. It's been raining, and snow is predicted. If I was left standing out there, I think I'd be shivering, too.
- Ellen Rathbone

10/21 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: Today at dawn we held our fall "coming out party" when all the traps and pots and nets and other collection devices that support our estuary naturalist public education during the warm-water months come out of the river for the season. A dozen or more eels of all sizes slithered back into the river followed by many pumpkinseed and bluegill sunfish. A dozen blue crabs, all males but one shook a claw at me before disappearing overboard. It was a not a "good-bye" shake. If they could have, they all would have all torn off a fingernail! A personal favorite, juvenile channel catfish were next. They always remind me of "trout with whiskers," even including an adipose fin - a most handsome fish. The only surprise was a half-dozen rock bass, small sunfish, common in tributaries but not very often found in the main river. These dark green-and-yellow palm-sized panfish are notable for their bright red eyes.
- Tom Lake, A. Danforth

10/22 - Ulster County, HRM 76: We saw a snow bunting hopping around on a gravelly path at Lake Minnewaska in Minnewaska State Park. This is the first time we have seen one in this area, and the first time that we have seen one by itself rather than in a flock. Such a beautiful bird in its winter plumage!
- Anne Smith, Ray Smith

10/22 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: In a repeat of a moment from eleven days ago, a horde of migrating blackbirds swept through. I had spotted a warbler I did not recognize moving along the edge of the river in the underbrush and I was listening intently for a call or song to identify. In an instant the scene went from silence to pandemonium. As before, it was mostly common grackles creating the racket, hundreds of them, though there were a few small flights of other blackbirds and cowbirds. From start to finish it lasted only a couple of minutes but by the time silence returned the mystery warbler had vanished.
- Tom Lake

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